Guide to Growing Vegetables

Guide to Growing Vegetables

This Vegetable Gardening section deals with the individual needs and uses of each vegetable to help you to produce organically and with the least effort crops that are suitable for household consumption, not to give record yields or win prizes at shows. I have found the methods I recommend satisfactory for producing reasonable crops with least work. I have given sowing periods, but these are only guidelines as they will vary for area and season. Depths for sowing are maximums, planting distances are for vegetables grown in blocks to optimum size, but again these may be varied tremendously depending on whether you want small young specimens or larger-growing ones. Seed packets carry sufficient instructions for larger and smaller varieties and distances for row planting.

Despite the loss of most old varieties, there are still many to choose from and although I recommend those I have found exceptionally good for flavour, you may find that they are not to your taste. However, new varieties come along constantly and it is always worth trying different ones to see what suits your soil, situation and taste. Where I have a strong opinion as to whether or not a crop is worth growing, I have said so, basing my judgement on its culinary value, reliability, effort required and space taken.

Perennials are given first, as they proffer the best value all round. The legumes are rated next most valuable, as they also create fertility, followed, in my estimation, by the alliums, roots, brassicas, cucurbits and others — with main-crop potatoes last as they are a lot of work compared to the cost of buying a sack of organic ones …

Perennial vegetables


asparagus perennial vegetables Asparagus is a real luxury crop. It is expensive to buy and the homegrown is so much sweeter. Being a member of the lily family, asparagus takes time to buildup large enough resources to throw up good, thick spears — it is usually three years before it becomes productive. The attractive foliage means asparagus can be planted in ornamental areas, but yields are best in a permanent bed in full sun — and it takes a lot of space to yield any quantity. Asparagus rarely suffers from pests- and diseases, though the asparagus beetle can be temporarily troublesome. It’s the small, slug-like larvae which do the damage, but they are easily killed with derris dust.

Asparagus can be grown under fruit trees and grapes to save space — it was traditionally grown in the vineyards of Beaujolais as the berries fob off the birds. It grows well with tomatoes which help hide it from the asparagus beetle, and a root secretion from asparagus kills Trichodorus, a nematode that attacks the roots of tomatoes. Both like basil and together they make a happy trio. Parsley does well with asparagus, onions are disliked.

Sow in situ, or plant one-year-old crowns as early as possible in spring. Plant the fleshy roots carefully on a mound in a trench at a good stride apart each way. Do not take a spear till three years from planting, and then never after the start of summer. Likewise never remove the ferny foliage till it’s dried up. Darken the soil with soot and do not mulch if you want the earliest spears. You can also force plants with cloches.

Epicurean attentions

Green asparagus has more flavour than white, blanched spears, but may be bitter if not fresh. Steaming is best for fresh, home-picked asparagus – if it’s shop-bought, boil it with salted water to remove any stale bitterness.


Seakale is rarely grown in Britain, despite being native to this country, practically unaffected by pests and diseases, and producing a tasty, nutritious crop in early spring. It is attractive enough to be grown in ornamental areas. Ideally, get planting ‘thongs’ of a good, long-selected local variety. Sadly, only ‘Lily White’ is usually available. The alternative is to sow in a seed bed and grow the best plants on for a year, before transplanting them to their permanent position. Plant them a stride apart in late winter, and grow them on till autumn. Put bottomless buckets over the crowns during dry weather and fill a foot deep with a mixture of peat or leafmould and sand. When the shoots appear in spring, remove the bucket and filling, then cut off the blanched shoots and head at ground level. Left to sprout and grow the root and crown will crop for many years.

Epicurean attentions

Steam the cleaned shoots for three-quarters of an hour and serve with a Hollandaise sauce or butter for a luxury treat. If the bitter flavour is too much, boil instead of steam and change the water twice.


Growing Rhubarb -  Guide to Growing Vegetables Rhubarb is early to crop and reliable and, although hard to find, there are a surprising number of varieties. It will grow in between other fruits, in ornamental areas or as groundcover at a good stride apart. Rhubarb is not too fussy about shade, site or position and rarely suffers pests or diseases. To force for earlier crops, simply cover the crowns with a bottomless bucket, barrel or stack of tyres lined with a little loose straw. Do give the crowns some compost every year or two to keep up their productivity. It is worth buying certified virus-free plants initially, as these produce much more freely. You can also grow some varieties from seed.

Epicurean attentions

Pull the stems with a twist rather than cutting them. Stop at mid-summer, as the sourness becomes too much. Rhubarb can be eaten in desserts, frozen or made into jam and wine.

Globe artichokes and cardoons

Artichokes are very large attractive plants that can be used in an ornamental area. They have beautiful blue flowers that attract bees. They do better given their own bed of rich soil and rotated every third year or so. Rarely affected by pests and diseases, they are easy but may be lost in hard, wet winters unless protected with straw or a cloche. Ideally, procure offsets from good clean stock in early spring, as they do not come true from seed. They can be sown in pots in spring, later to be transplanted out a good stride or two apart. Select from this stock after a couple of years of building up the plants to tell their worth.

Cardoons look much the same but are grown annually. They have their leaves bound up and wrapped in late summer to blanch the hearts for winter use. Cardoons are always grown fresh from seed – the skill lies in keeping them growing without check, so you need a rich, moist soil to make a succulent heart for blanching.

Epicurean attentions

If aphids or earwigs get in the artichoke heads, soak them in salt water before cooking and the pests float off. The hearts can be frozen for winter use and are scrumptious on pizza and in patés.

Jerusalem Artichokes

growing artichokes - Jerusalem artichokes Jerusalem artichokes are a good standby crop for when the potatoes fail, not much loved by anyone as they save wind up all season to release once you’ve eaten them! These tall plants make useful, quick and easy windbreaks. Being related to sunflowers they get on well with sweet corn and their dense growth will suppress ground elder and even Equisetum. Plant the tubers one to two fingers deep a foot apart in early spring. They are difficult to eradicate, so are best confined to wild corners. The tubers are not easy to clean, but are nutritious. They keep well only if left in the ground and are immune to pests and diseases. Straw over their beds in late autumn, so you can dig them unfrozen in deepest winter.

Epicurean attentions

Try them peeled sliced and deep fried and as a soup with anchovies and shallots.

‘Fuseau’ has golden, chocolate-vanilla-scented flowers and longish tubers. ‘Dwarf Sunray’ is shorter, flowers more freely and has thin-skinned tubers.


Mushroom kits are available which are very expensive per mushroom produced and are unreliable unless you follow the instructions religiously. Starting with fresh strawy horse manure and mushroom spawn is a lot of work for risky results. The critical thing is to get the ambient conditions perfect. Without a cellar or similar, success is rare as mushrooms prefer a fairly constant temperature. I believe my lack of decent yields is due to the low humidity where I live. In wetter climes more success is likely. My best crop came years ago from a kit that I kept down in the bilges of a houseboat I was living on.

Mushrooms are probably less irksome grown as a perennial. Pare back rich, lush turf by a shady, damp hedge base and mix the spawn in with the soil, then re-cover with turf. If you are lucky you will get a harvest, if not … There are many other different edible fungi, such as the oysters, which grow on wood, straw or sawdust and are worthwhile for the fun of it. Surpluses are easily dried or frozen.

Epicurean attentions

The stalks of mushrooms are tough, so save them up, dried or frozen, for making stock or soup. Gently fry mushrooms in butter with salt, freshly ground black pepper and lemon juice. Keep them at a low temperature to avoid scalding.

06. January 2011 by admin
Categories: Vegetable Gardening | Tags: | Comments Off on Guide to Growing Vegetables


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